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Monday, October 15, 2007

Tombstone with faith statement in Kraybill Church cemetery
Tombstone in Kraybill Church cemetery with faith statement

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(Note: Due to the historical detail that is a result of my study and is needed for today's devotional it's a bit longer than normal.  The spiritual challenge is summed up in the last several paragraphs.)
"The Big Picture"
"And Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph's descendants" (Joshua 24:32).
I periodically write about how Brooksyne and I find spiritual value and needed perspective when walking through a cemetery.  We consider how generations come and go as we note inscriptions on the tombstones.  The other evening we took a walk and passed through the old church cemetery right up the road from our home.  Many of the tombstones are very old but we also walked past the freshly dug grave of our friend Craig Heisey, whom we referred to in a message last week. We paused and considered our various times of association with Craig. We both remembered his warm smile and friendly nature and his enthusiasm about art projects he was working on.
We like to look for evidence of faith in God expressed on tombstones and this particular cemetery has several with statements such as "Made Righteous In Christ", "Saved By Grace" and so forth.  My favorite happens to be the epitaph on the tombstone of evangelist D.L Moody in Northfield, MA that declares simply, "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
Desecration of Joseph's tombSeveral years ago a major desecration by Muslim extremists took place at a sacred Jewish site called "Joseph's Tomb." Up until this time I was not aware that the location of the tomb of Joseph was even known or still had significance to devout Jews. (But I shouldn't have been surprised!) Allow me the opportunity today to trace its history in the Bible.  It's one more incredible way in which the ancient events of the Bible are having a bearing on modern man.
Joseph, the clearly favored son of the patriarch Jacob, is well-remembered for his coat of many colors. Many of us will remember from our childhood memories how the plain flannelgraph board suddenly brightened with many hues of color as the Sunday School teacher added the coat of many colors visual aid to help us remember and treasure this timeless story.  The suspense builds as Joseph gets sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers and through a series of providential events he becomes the Prime Minister in Egypt, prospering immensely.  But he never loses his identity nor does his heart wane and because of this God raises him up for the deliverance of the fledgling people of God. 
Joseph knew where his real home was and, just prior to his death, made this very explicit request: "And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, 'God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place'" (Genesis 50:25).  The truths of God were transmitted orally in those days, passed down from generation to generation before Moses first placed the Scriptures in written form.
I believe Joseph surely was aware of a very specific promise made by the Lord to his great-grandfather Abraham. "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions" (Genesis 15:13,14).  This promise was made even before Abraham's son Isaac was born!
Many years later Joseph died and the people of God were enslaved in Egypt.  Moses, as their leader, was ready to pull out of Egypt during the Exodus and he remembered this important request and acted to fulfill it. "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, 'God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place'" (Exodus 13:19). 
Somebody had to haul those bones around!  First across the Red Sea and through the wilderness for 40 years under Moses, then across the Jordan River and all during the time of conquest under Joshua.  Finally, after Joshua died, they fulfilled an old promise by laying these bones to rest as recorded in the daily text.  And for some 3,400 years this tomb has been a place of remembrance for faithful Jews.
What motivated Joseph?  After all, when he made the request he had become very comfortable in Egypt.  He was revered by both the Egyptians and the Israelites, who were at that time honored and welcome guests of the Egyptians. 
The answer is found in the only biographical statement made concerning Joseph in Hebrews 11, the great "Faith Chapter".  "By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones" (Hebrews 11:22).  Joseph, by faith, saw the big picture.  He knew where his real home was as a great-grandson of Abraham.
I believe one of our biggest faith challenges on this side of eternity is keeping the big picture our major focus as we journey below.  This is true during the times of both good and bad.  By faith we who have trusted in Jesus are also children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). Today, let us, like Joseph, keep the big picture before us and align our priorities accordingly!
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer:  Father, there are so many attractions this world has to offer that rival for my devotion.  As I keep my priorities aligned with the principles learned from studying Your Holy Word I will reject those which tug at my heart strings causing me to lose sight of the Kingdom of God.  I desire godly discernment day in and day out in the choices I make so that I remain faithful and fully committed to You in my Christian walk. I ask for Your help in the strong name of Jesus, my Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Stephen's note: Today's message as mentioned above is longer than usual. Typically in preparing these messages there is study and contemplation. As I contemplated today's Scripture texts I recalled my visit last week to Williamsburg, which celebrated its 400th anniversary this year.  That sure seems like a long time ago.
I wonder how many of us have any knowledge at all of our ancestors beyond three or four generations? In my case I knew my grandparents on both sides but none of my great grandparents, who had passed away by the time I came around. What little I remember about my great-grandfather is that he went back to visit his homeland on a steamship with my grandfather, as told by my mother. That would have been just a little over 100 years ago.
But incredibly Joseph lived and died some 3800 years ago!  The Israelites were carrying his bones prior to his final burial in Shechem some 400 years after his death.  Amazing!!

Stephen's great grandfather and grandfather
Stephen's great-grandfather Godfrey Wilhelm Steincross and grandfather George Washington Steincross (about 1900)

Fred and Wanda
Last Friday I posted a new entry on my humor blog, a very interesting prayer request offered one night in a church service in the little country church we pastored when we first got married in 1976. This is a true story.

A future entry will be concerning a yellow page ad I read while looking for a church to attend in Williamsburg VA last weekend. The main features expected to draw visitors to a church based on the large display ad were "casual clothing and Starbucks coffee".  I'm not kidding. We didn't attend the church although I periodically do enjoy a strong cup of coffee.

Today's suggested music:
"Knowing You" (Audio)  Graham Kendrick

Here's an article concerning the desecration of Joseph's tomb.

This morning we attend another funeral, an elderly man we met several years ago and connected with he and and his wife through this daily encouragement ministry. I visited him once in the nursing home.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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